This week has been one of those weeks. You know, where it started off well and then kind of turned to mush somewhere around the middle –Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, they all seem to blur and jumble together like Appollonia’s broken English in my head. Since then, I seem to have found myself squishing through the murky waters of writer’s block, what might be the early signs of Adult ADHD, and general ennui.
For the funemployed writer, this existential listlessness is a fairly typical occurrence. When you’ve been out of a regular routine for months, it becomes difficult to even figure out the day of the week, much less the reason for your existence.
Occasionally there are bright spots: you write something that seems to resonate! You’ve justified your existence (and why you haven’t gotten a job at Starbucks yet)! Hooray!
Then the crazy sets in. “Congratulations,” says the little voice in the back of your mind in a way that isn’t exactly mean, just kind of cold, rational, and slightly edgy. “Enjoy this now, because it’s the last time you’ll ever write something good again. Oh and how much money did you make from that post? Starbucks has great benefits.” Whoa! That was mean! But maybe not. Maybe just true?
In this squishy world of “meh” I have found that when writer’s block sets in and I can’t turn an elegant phrase, I start to rely on snark. Snark is the less clever man’s wit. Whoever said irony is dead in the aftermath of 9/11 didn’t count on it’s red-headed stepchild, snark, inheriting its fortunes. It’s rather easy to be snarky. Sadly, it often seems that the snarkier the work, the more it will get shared on Facebook and Twitter, the twin barometers for success!
Snark is like the trampoline events in the Olympics compared to the verbal gymnastics that comprise wit. Snark does require some skill (you need to be able to write the joke), but wit demands technique, finesse, and works best when you’re not menstruating.
I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling lazy (and also when I’ve spent too much time on Facebook and Twitter reading everyone’s snarky political tweets, memes, photos, and now infographics), snark just seems to ooze out of my pores. The danger with snark is that it sticks to you and makes you more snarky, because you feel disgusting from the thick coat of snark oil you’ve accumulated. So you try to rub it off on other people, but then they get snarky too and what started out as a simple dialogue turns into an orgy of self-loathing and misanthropy.
And then it’s just “farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies.”
Then while you’re doing your walk of shame after the snark-fest in the cool light of the figurative “morning after,” you realize that what appeared to be good-natured wit in your snark-goggles was really its ugly cousin vitriol. Vitriol and snark are kind of the same thing, only snark at least puts on the the pretense of humor. Vitriol doesn’t even bother, because she knows when you reach that point, you’re coming home with her anyway.
Here’s a good example. I wanted to write a piece about this astrological phenomenon that apparently occurs in DC every year. It may or may not have to do with Freemasons and/or conspiracy theories, made popular by Dan Brown and The Lost Symbol.
It seems that at sunset on August 10, the stars Arcturus, Regulus, and Spica (Siriusly!) will rise over the White House, Capitol, and Washington Monument, respectively. I had hoped to write a bit about conspiracy theories in particular and Freemasons in general.
Before I set out to write, I knew that I’d have to be very careful with my words. There was so much snark in my head that I feared that I needed blotting wipes to get the snark oil off my face. This has happened with a few of my other posts but my editor stopped me from using what we refer to at The Wheelhouse Review offices as my “Dan Brown voice” (or, when our intern inevitably disappoints, my “Tommy voice.”) You see, I can’t stand Dan Brown. Often the mere mention of his name unleashes a snarky-to-vitriolic diatribe that apparently catches more sensitive listeners unaware. I am, at this very moment, suppressing the little Brown monster inside of me from explaining to you exactly why he infuriates me. And it is as full of waste as it sounds.
Still, when Ryan edits out the vitriol from my work, sometimes I feel so…vitriolic I just want to either buy or not buy some chicken sandwiches in protest because he may or may not have trampled on my rights! But most of the time I feel thankful because, well, I’m not a vitriolic person. I actually prefer more subtle approaches such as manipulating circumstances so a friend will have to watch a cheesy movie instead of me. So I had planned on publishing a redacted version of my thoughts on Freemasons (because we all have them. In fact, that’s what Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret was originally about until Judy Blume’s editor said it was too vitriolic).
Fortunately, my writer’s block seemed to have neutralized the little Brown monster–along with my ability to write a well-thought out essay. I began to spend even more time on Facebook, hoping for inspiration and instead, ended up coating myself in yet another layer of snark. This time it was with regards to Gay Chicken. I mean, Chick-Fil-A. When the generations who succeed us look back on this debacle, I am sure that we will appear to be a culture truly obsessed with both food and sex, especially in the undeletable archives of social networks.
I noticed that while criticizing American Evangelical Christians for our lack of priorities (we’ll line up to support an injustice we feel is being done to a fast food restaurant, but we won’t come out in droves to fight poverty, hunger, or defend the cause of people who are struggling to have the right to love and be loved–damn it, I did it again) [Editor’s note: yes, you sure did], I found myself getting snarkier and snarkier in my comments. How hypocritical. As I was trying to make the point that defending an idea or cause over people isn’t loving I was defending that point over loving my brothers and sisters, even if I disagreed with them. I still feel the snark from those comments sticking to my skin.
In view of the painful possibility, I must, as Lewis Caroll would no doubt approve, most indignantly appeal to my other writings as a proof that I am capable of such verbal crimes.* Since I can’t send Ryan hunting for the snark (and vitriol) every time I write or say anything (can’t I?) I need to watch my words more carefully. Words may not break bones, but they can break hearts, spirits, and relationships, all of which often take far longer to heal. I am especially concerned about the power of my words as the election draws near with its palpable temptation to live in an “us vs. them” world. Readers, I don’t want to bounce around on a trampoline of snark, when I can gracefully (and in an extremely controlled manner), walk humbly and steadily on the balance beam of wit, speaking truth but always in love.
In the next few months, Stephanie Phillips and I will explore how to have a healthy and productive dialogue about social matters. And we look forward to Ryan’s “compliment sandwiches” telling us whether we’re being too snarky (Author’s note: but just remember Ryan–we prefer whole grain bread).
*But not capable of plagiarism. I essentially lifted this from Caroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark.”